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Is Negative Reinforcement Hurting Your Business Performance?

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Wed, Jul 13, 2011

Positive reinforcement creates the highest value in the work place.  Why?  Because positive reinforcement generates more behavior than is minimally required.  It’s called discretionary effort.  This discretionary effort is the only way your organization can maximize performance. 

Negative performance increases behavior too; however it generates just enough behavior to escape or avoid punishment.  This improvement is described as, “just enough to get by.”

Which form of reinforcement is occurring in your business?Summary of the 4 Behavioral Consequences & Their Effects resized 600

According to Aubrey Daniels’ Bringing Out the Best in People, the following indicators are clues that performance in your business is being driven by negative reinforcement:

  1. The “J Curve” Performance shows a sharp rise just before a deadline.

  2. Negative Talk.   You hear people saying things like, “I hate this place.’  You may need to look for more subtle negative talk which is the more common indicator.

  3. Performance goes flat after reaching goal. 

  4. There is no plan for positive reinforcement. If there is no plan to celebrate the achievement of a specific goal or the successful completion of an important project, the only consequence for completion is to start work on something else. 

  5. When you remove a performance requirement, performance drops. For example, if you announce to your work group or team that their involvement on a quality improvement team was purely voluntary and they stopped participating, you can bet that they were doing it only because they felt they had to do it.

How do you stack up?  To understand whether these five clues for negative reinforcement are present in your organization may require further analysis.  We’ll delve into that next blog.

Many executives argue and are repelled by daily huddles, weekly meetings and the meeting rhythms we suggest as Gazelles coaches.  They cringe and refuse to look beyond the results these meetings can achieve.  They fail to recognize the stability and structure meetings provide.   The right meetings contribute positive rituals for business growth.

Meetings that are structured with a solid agenda to provide accountability and positive reinforcement create discretionary effort.  Strategic Discipline is a step toward initiating positive reinforcement in your business.

Do you need more clues as to whether you’re guilty of getting performance through negative reinforcement?  We’ll look at the five clues further to help you uncover suspicious outcomes that suggest your business is getting performance the wrong way next blog.  

Topics: employee performance, positive reinforcement

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Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

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